ARC Bahamas Journal pt. 4
ARC – S/V Euro Trash Girl (Part 4)
Why did I choose to join this blue water adventure on a 40 foot J120 with seven other people that I knew nothing about? Quite simply, I needed to find out for myself what it honestly takes to sail 24/7 for an extended period of time on the open ocean!
From the time the race committee sounded the horn our excitement levels grew. We trimmed for the course somewhere between beam/broad reach. Heading towards and through the Gulf Stream we would remain on a starboard tack and this is true for most of this trip. As we lost sight of land so went our cell signal. When I powered down my cell phone I knew it meant no family contact for the remainder of the journey. No cell phone?!….this in itself would prove to be therapeutic!
Our watch crews would remain consistent, my watch had a Captain and 3 crew and the other shift had one Captain and 2 crew. Our shifts were set up from 0800-1400 hours to 1400-2000, 2000-0000, 0000-0400, 0400-0800 and both shifts would cycle through to a new schedule every 24 hours. Each crew member would rotate during the shift from helm, navigator, watch person to coffee and snack maker. On our first evening I found it nearly impossible to sleep and kept hopping out of my bunk looking for something to do. I remember wondering how long it would take to reach the Gulf Stream? We had fairly cool temps and consistent rolling seas all evening and into the morning hours. We had only one crew member suffer from sea sickness and it took more than a day to recover. She did all the right things starting on the patch when we departed Annapolis. Once sick she stayed hydrated and by morning she took an additional Bonine tablet. She chose the typical response and tried to stay below and ride it out, but I believe when she forced herself to assume the helm and simply stay in the breeze of the cockpit that’s when she began to recover. I don’t get seasick, but because of the big storm that delayed our start I decided to take a crew member up on his offer to use one of his patches. Not sure if it helped, but I do know that I don’t care for the cotton mouth it gives you!
At some point after midnight we noticed a change in the wave action, not real choppy just a bit confused. A change in the air temperature became noticeable as well and we all said “yep, we’re in the stream now!” At the end of our 0000-0400 shift I could not sleep, just lay quiet in my light weight sleeping bag on the lower starboard bunk trying to rest. I chose the lower bunk because it was larger and easier for my 6-1, 210 lb frame to get in and out of. After a couple of shifts rolling around in the convenient bunk I chose to move to the upper bunk, it was a tight fit but way more comfortable there. Funny thing the first night…I kept hearing my phones text tone pinging away, but it was turned off! That addiction was cured after one day!
It wasn’t long before I noticed the sky becoming brighter through the hatches. I threw on my foulies and vest and eased out into the cockpit to join the on watch crew witness a truly incredible sunrise. My “first” blue water sunrise, very cool! What stood out to me most about this sunrise and others to come was that even before the sun crested the horizon, the entire 360 degree horizon line was just flowing with the colors you see in these photos, absolutely beautiful!
Time to boil water for coffee and oatmeal, this would be my breakfast of choice the entire trip. We brought enough provisions for a 2 week trip, we had everything you can think of, everyone had what they wanted. Typical of boats we had some maintenance issues along the way. We noticed in Portsmouth that our large gas burner would not stay lit so we jerry rigged a long handled utensil to keep our stove working…McGiver style! Fresh coffee was thoughtfully made from a French press early on, but we would discover that the instant coffee packs were more convenient and tasted great! After breakfast our watch took over to watch the end of the sunrise. Seas were still up a bit and I enjoyed every minute at the wheel watching nothing but the colors change around me. We didn’t have auto pilot so I found out quickly that the driver had to pay close attention to the compass and electronics or risk veering as much as 30 degrees off course!
Since leaving Portsmouth we had a few minor maintenance issues to address, the worst was trying to manage the heads discharge issues while on starboard tack. All I can say is that even with a brand new holding tank and lines bacteria builds quickly and… well you get the picture. This rare but nasty odor was held at bay with a nice bleech mixture poured into both the deck cap and the head itself. Another issue that could have caused a major problem was that our spring loaded boom vang fitting on the mast was binding and popping horribly because it apparently lost a washer or simply developed excess play. Without removing anything we simply released tension and used medium gauge stainless steel wire to weave a temporary makeshift washer that worked the whole trip! We found that after a couple days with so many crew that we simply started letting our personal gear migrate all over the boat and this took conscious effort to control daily. Apparently a seal in our spinnaker pole had failed and we had just enough water leaking in that the centrally located bilge pump while on perpetual heel could not do the job so we would occasionally use a sponge and bucket to remove maybe an inch of water along the lower bunk, wet socks suck!. Another minor issue was the radar reflector that was attached too close to the mast, it made enough racket to disturb our sleep. Captain Tony was the man for the job and up he went!
On day 3 the winds had abandoned us! We had tried to trudge along but when speeds dropped below 4 knots we gave in and fired up the diesel. With the sails down we motored on at approximately 5.5 knots. 5 of 7 crew members were making the best of the situation by fishing and flying kites and enjoying wearing only t-shirts in the warm air. Unfortunately something that we heard in our pre-trip training would come true….shit usually hits the fan when you least expect it! The largest and strongest of the kites took a quick nose dive and landed in the water. It acted like a parachute and even at 5.5 knots there was just a split second to react. It happened so fast….Tony’s right hand got caught up in the kite line and he sustained a partially de-gloved right index finger. The line cut through the web between thumb and index finger like a knife leaving a 3 inch gash pulling the skin up his index finger. I quickly grabbed the 2 medical kits and the crew stopped the boat and laid Tony in the cockpit. Tony instinctively brought the skin together himself by the time I had the Betadine antibiotic swabs out of the case. He’s a strong guy but I could tell he was in serious pain while cleaning his wound. I was an EMT Basic for several years back in the day and had only sutured one time “back in the day”. Everyone looked and the suture kit could not be found, but we located a medical stapler. I looked at Tony and said “good news and bad news…here’s a stapler but I’ve never used one?!” I unpackaged and activated the stapler once and said we can do this if you want…he said go for it. Tony had a good idea and told a crew member to sit on his chest to block his good hand from making contact with my jaw when I start stapling, I appreciated that! 7 staples later we had his 3 inch laceration closed and bleeding was controlled. Luckily we had a little ice left to help the swelling. Captain Jeff immediately got on the sat phone and we were able to talk directly with the Coast Guard. They said they had a chopper ready but we weren’t ready for that yet and actually we were at the edge of their fuel range anyways. We asked to speak with a doctor to get medical direction and one was patched through. The doctor said as long as we had the wound cleaned and the bleeding controlled that there weren’t any ligaments or other concerns with this wound. He recommended getting him to a medical facility asap. Using the sat phone we were also able to contact our JWorld coordinator who said if we decided to cross back over the Gulf Stream we would be sailing upwind into a new low pressure weather system forming off the Carolinas…uggh! We told Tony all the details and we figured best case it would take us a day and a half to reach the Carolinas and two days to arrive in the Bahamas, Tony chose to stay with the wind and head for the Bahamas. For the next two days he kept his arm in a sling and we kept his bandages clean and monitored his capillary refill and flexibility. Keep Calm and Sail On!
Understandably there weren’t many photos from the rest of the night. Tony would rest until morning and Jeff would pull a double shift. We were very concerned to say the least, this was a very serious hand injury that needed a real doctor/surgeon. We started running our numbers, if we can maintain 8-9 knots we can arrive in Marsh Harbor on Friday. The trick here is that Man of War cut that leads to Marsh Harbor is narrow, not well marked and without local knowledge it is recommended to enter during daylight hours. All we can do is push on.
The winds had been good to us during the night and we were making decent progress. When Tony woke up in the morning we changed his bandage and his capillary refill was still good, no bleeding, no signs of infection and he could wiggle his fingers, all positive! Tony would make a guest appearance periodically and I could see he had a positive attitude which helped the crews morale as well. He actually felt well enough to take the helm for an hour during the day, he’s the man!! I was glad to see him feeling so good and he stayed topside for probably the most extraordinary sunset that I’ve ever seen in my life!
I’ll end part 4 with a photo of the two Captains discussing what their game plan is for the next day. By the way, I’ll also include a photo from this night, it’s perhaps the most incredible full moon Mackerel Sky that I’ve ever seen! This usually means a frontal system is breaking up and little or no rain is to follow…..Positive Is How I Live!
To be continued……